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Jerry Sullivan: Bills in prime time is not exactly must-see TV

I'm sure a lot of Buffalo fans were outraged when the NFL schedule was released Thursday night and the Bills got only one prime-time night game.

Deal with it. Sure, they broke their 17-year playoff drought, giving the community a psychic boost and buying time for Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane. Hopeful fans figured that being one of the dozen playoff teams would guarantee at least two appearances in prime time.

But this is the entertainment business, and the Bills were fortunate to be awarded one game on prime-time TV. They'll host the defending AFC champion Patriots at New Era Field at 8:15 p.m. on Oct. 29.

It'll be the Bills' first Monday appearance at home in 10 years. Having snapped one drought, they'll have a chance to break another dry spell. They haven't won on Monday night since winning at Miami in October of 1999, before the playoff drought began. Their last win on Sunday night was over Tennessee in the 2000 opener at the Ralph.

The Bills do not have a Thursday night game on the schedule. The new, $550 million deal with Fox does not include the requirement that every team must play once on Thursday nights. The Bills played one Thursday game in each of the last five seasons under that arrangement.

They have lost their last 11 games on Sunday or Monday night. They haven't appeared on Sunday night -- the league's marquee prime-time event on NBC -- since losing 56-10 to the Pats at home in 2007. In the Bills' last five Sunday night games, they haven't scored more than 10 points and have averaged 5.6.

So it's not as if they've been must-see TV. Ending the playoff drought gave them some credibility, but they might have the worst offense in the league right now. The analytics website Pro Football Focus recently judged their quarterback and wide receiver position groups as the worst in the NFL.

Bills have three position groups considered worst in the NFL, per PFF

They made the playoffs last year, but their 10-3 loss to the Jaguars was one of the worst offensive displays in playoff history. And that was with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. It's a passing league, and you can't expect the NFL to showcase a team with the fewest passing yards in the league over the last 15 years.

It's impossible to know who will be playing quarterback in late October. Surely, the TV types are hoping the Bills have a highly touted rookie QB starting by the time Tom Brady and the Pats come to town. But there are no guarantees they'll take a quarterback high in the draft, or that he'll see the field any time soon.

Playoffs or not, it looks like a lot of the schedules from the drought years: One prime-time night game and 15 games that start at 1 p.m. The Bills might be on the right track, but they're a long way from being a prime TV destination.

Rather than dwell on the Bills' slate, I picked out what I felt was the most intriguing game each week in the 2018 season.

Week 1
LA Rams at Oakland: Jon Gruden is back on Monday Night Football, but as Raiders coach after ending his nine-year hiatus from the sidelines. Khalil Mack will likely be chasing around Jared Goff with a big contract extension by then.

Week 2
New England at Jacksonville: A rematch of the AFC title game in the 4:25 p.m. Sunday time slot. Presumably, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski will be on board. Maybe Doug Marrone and Blake Bortles won't sit on the lead this time.

Week 3
San Francisco at KC: We'll find out if Jimmy Garoppolo, who went 5-0 as the starter after the trade from the Pats, is for real. Ditto for Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes III, the guy KC drafted with the pick they got from the Bills.

Week 4
Houston at Indianapolis: Deshaun Watson is back after setting an NFL record with 19 TD passes in his first seven starts before hurting his knee last season. Andrew Luck is expected back for the Colts, which makes them instantly relevant.

Week 5
Atlanta at Pittsburgh: Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan were fifth and sixth in passing yards a year ago. The Steelers' Antonio Brown and Falcons' Julio Jones have each averaged over 1,400 receiving yards over the last four seasons.

Week 6
San Francisco at Green Bay: Garoppolo goes into Lambeau to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Pack on Monday night. Rodgers is coming back from a broken collarbone and Jordy Nelson is gone, but there's talk that Rodgers will be better than ever.

Week 7
Buffalo at Indianapolis: I had to put the Bills in there somewhere. They head to Lucas Oil to face the sainted Frank Reich, who will be in his first season as an NFL head coach. A healthy Luck will be a good test for a fine Buffalo secondary.

Week 8
New Orleans at Minnesota: A Sunday night rematch of last year's division round playoff game in Minny, which the Vikes won on Case Keenum's 61-yard TD pass to Stefon Diggs on the final play. Now it's Kirk Cousins vs. Drew Brees.

Week 9
Green Bay at New England: Great choice for a Sunday night. Likely last chance to see Rodgers and Tom Brady, Nos. 1 and 3 in career QB rating, play each other. That assumes they don't meet in a Super Bowl, or that Brady isn't still playing at 45.

Week 10
Atlanta at Cleveland: I expect a bounce-back year from Matt Ryan and the Falcons. The Browns will be a very interesting team, perhaps with rookies Sam Darnold and Saquon Barkley occuping the same backfield come November.

Week 11
Kansas City at LA Rams: A Monday nighter in Mexico City features the NFL's top two rushers from a year ago, the Chiefs' Kareem Hunt and the Rams' Todd Gurley. Another chance to check on the development of young QBs Goff and Mahomes.

Week 12
Green Bay at Minnesota: This could decide who wins the NFC North. Rodgers vs. Cousins, who might be perceived as a bit overpaid at $28 million a year by this stage of the season. A healthy Dalvin Cook could really help him.

Week 13
San Francisco at Seattle: If I seem partial to quarterbacks, it's because I am. Another big road test for Garoppolo against the Seahawks and Russell Wilson, who continues to be the most underrated QB in the game.

Week 14
Philadelphia at Dallas: Oh yeah, the Super Bowl champs. Carson Wentz says the goal is to be ready for the regular season, but it's more important that he be ready for the stretch run. No offense to Nick Foles, but Carson is a star.

Week 15
New England at Pittsburgh: Same point in the season, same location as last year's thrilled that the Pats won when an apparent Jesse James TD catch was ruled incomplete on replay. New year, new catch rule. We'll see.

Week 16
Houston at Philadelphia: I could watch Wentz and Watson every week. They were playing like MVPs last year before going out with knee injuries. If Watson and J.J. Watt stay healthy, the Texans will win the AFC South.

Week 17
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh: After what Andy Dalton did for the Bills in the final week last season, consider this a sentimental choice. Plus, the Bengals could make noise in what figures to be a wide-open AFC North this season.

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